In a most unusual way, a federal judge ordered all seven Richmond city councilors to appear in court on December 1 to answer charges that they tried to sabotage the settlement by obstructing the developer’s efforts to redevelop Molate Point, despite having previously approved it. multifunctional project.
This is the finishing touch to a decades-long effort to redevelop a 193-acre site 1.5 miles north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which until 1995 was used as a fuel storage and transshipment facility by the US Navy.
A few years ago, the Californian tribe Guidiville Rancheria and Upstream Point Molate LLC wanted to build a casino on the site, but the city council rejected the plan. The tribe and developer subsequently sued the city, arguing that the council had no legal reason to deny the project that they paid the city millions of dollars in negotiations, but a federal judge upheld that decision in 2018.
However, in his ruling, the judge said that while the city was not supposed to pay the plaintiffs any monetary compensation, it would have to split any profit of 50-50 with them if the land was subsequently sold for development.
Guidiville Rancheria and Upstream now allege that Richmond is in breach of this court-ordered agreement by refusing to properly respond to environmental groups that have sued the city, refusing to provide audit and inspection reports, and obstructing a developer’s plan to build homes and commercial buildings here.
In response, US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Monday ordered the council and city manager to explain in court what was happening.
In a summary filed in federal court this month, Upstream attorney Gareth O’Keefe argued that the current city council is “purposefully trying to undermine” the settlement by working to overturn decisions made by previous city councils and courts.
City Attorney Teresa Stricker, who recently notified the city that she would step down in early January, did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
Current councilor and former Mayor Gail McLaughlin said she could not comment on the allegations, but “would be delighted to have the opportunity to testify about this and clarify the truth to the judge and others.”
In August 2018, months after the agreement between Guidiville Rancheria, Upstream and the city was approved by the court, environmental activists sued the city, arguing that the settlement violated state public assembly law because it was negotiated behind closed doors. doors.
The court dismissed the lawsuit in December 2020, and environmental groups – Citizens for East Shore Parks and the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund – and Richmond residents Paul Karman, Jim Hanson, Pam Stello and Tony Sustak appealed later. in the same month.
According to court documents and court records, the city council instructed its city attorney not to object to the appeal and instead file a statement of agreement with environmental groups who accused the city of violating the public assembly law.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt opposed such a move, and in his October newsletter via email stated that it would be a breach of contract with the developer and would put Richmond at risk of losing up to $ 100 million, “thus bankrupting the city.”
The issue sparked further confusion after Butt said in his newsletter earlier this month that Stricker warned the council in an email that filing a memo in support of those suing the city would violate federal rules for civil proceedings. … In response to Butt’s approval, the board is considering condemning him for divulging confidential communications.
Four councilors who voted to file a memo in support of environmental groups and city sues – McLaughlin, Claudia Jimenez, Eduardo Martinez, and Melvin Willis – opposed housing at Point Molate, including the current plans for the site, which were approved. last year before the election of Jimenez and McLaughlin.
Before the new councilors took their seats in January 2021, the council approved a development agreement with Winehaven Legacy, LLC, a subsidiary of development firm SunCal, to build up to 1,450 homes and over 400,000 square feet of commercial space on the site.
But the city’s efforts to push development have lagged behind, and attorneys Guidiville and Upstream point to this as another example of the city’s sabotage of the project.
Winehaven Legacy attorneys recently wrote to the city’s attorney that the city is in breach of its development agreement by delaying work with the developer and creating a community area for housing and other planned buildings.
“This highlights the bad faith of the City Council and self-serving efforts to delay and interfere with the City and Winehaven’s (development agreements) commitments,” wrote O’Keeffe, an exploration and production attorney.